Monday 24th June 2024
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It’s all about an education

In my article titled ‘Why Blame The Film Makers?’ I wrote about the demands of film viewers which actually determine the quality of film made. As long as viewers keep demanding mediocrity, the industry is not going to stop.
However, I wish to strike a balance here by dispelling the idea that the viewers need to be blamed altogether. The responsibility to produce good movies lies with both the film-maker and the viewer.
For many years I despised Japanese food, not because I had tasted it and found it unpalatable. The truth is I developed the aversion based on hearsay. It took a friend a few months to teach me whatever he knew about Japanese food. Now I am a Japanese food super-fan. The bottom-line is simply education.
Tamils are very sentimental people. Sentiments and emotions are embedded in their DNA. They are also very expressive. Subtlety is not a very Tamil thing. One just has to visit a Tamil wedding or a funeral to see what I mean. As a result, Tamils expect Tamil movies to showcase those emotions on screen. 
Idolization is another typical Tamil trait. Anyone can become a ‘Thalaivar’ in Tamilnadu, as long as he or she has the money to throw or seemingly possesses a little more intelligence than the average man. What more when movies show actors as super-humans, performing gravity-defying stunts and spewing out senseless ‘punch’ dialogues? 
The change that is expected from Tamil cinema can only come through education – film education. I believe that if Tamil film viewers are adequately educated to appreciate the potential of cinema, they would be able to make better judgements.
In an interview to Kalaignar TV a few months ago, Kamal Haasan mentioned why only a certain segment of society was able to appreciate ‘Hey Ram’. In particular, he mentioned the historians. Being a movie set in the 1940s, he explained that its failure at the box office was largely due to the lack of education on the subject. Many today don’t know much about the history of the independence era, and so when the movie was released, a large portion of post-independence Tamils could not relate to it. Teachers refer to this as schema-building – creating pre-knowledge before addressing a subject. 
Film-makers need not take all the blame for producing mediocre films, but if they wish to raise the bar on quality films, they need to educate viewers on what a good film should be. A typical example I can relate to is soccer. Teams such as Brazil, Manchester United and the likes were only read about until the day the TV showed up. Until such a time, every Malaysian held the local teams in high regard. But the day people saw Pele, Maradona and Beckham on TV, their standards rose up. Today nobody watches Malaysian soccer. That’s not to imply Malaysian soccer is bad, but the expectations of the viewers have settled on a higher bar. The  ‘idiot box’ has in fact educated football fans all over the world on how world class soccer is played.
Tamils are intelligent people and they have the capacity to change their mindset and raise their benchmarks to better levels of appreciation. But without adequate schema-building, the regular Tamil fan will never be exposed to what good films are.
I mentioned earlier that Tamils are sentimental and emotional people. There is no need to change that in order to appreciate good films. One recent example is Unnai Pol Oruvan, a movie that I consider a valid benchmark in quality film making. It’s not just because it’s a Kamal film. I would say the same if any other actor had played that role. Every sentiment and emotional that a regular Tamil would experience was showcased in UPO, but with startling subtlety. The anger of a common Tamil man, the pain and tears shed while relating the episode of the Gujarati girl, the frustration of a police officer caught between duty and political interference, etc have all been powerfully showcased, without any super-human nonsensical effort. The Tamil fans made it a hit movie. Why? Simply because, unperturbed by success or failure, Kamal keeps doing something new in every film. He has educated the regular Tamil fan that one cannot expect the regular stuff from him.
Film-makers desperately need to realize that while profits are important, the art shouldn’t suffer a dearth in creativity and quality. It’s not just about extravagant spending; it’s about a social awakening. What is the point of spending hundreds of crores of rupees to entertain people and yet keep them intellectually malnourished?
Your views are educated by film-makers, and Tamil film viewers, open your minds and eyes to the bigger picture. World cinema is much bigger than four songs, three fights and punch dialogues.
By: Joseph David